Paul Thompson {Ecologist} | Masters of our own Oblivion

Masters of our own Oblivion

By Paul Thompson

Oblivion: “the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening around one”

London woke on 29th November 1822 to another very cold morning and as the big freeze took hold the Thames began slowing to an icy slush and people of the North awakened to the start of a winter that would eventually see some of them having to tunnel out of their houses to survive. That same day the Reverend William Kirby called a meeting in Soho Square London resolving to form the Zoological Club of the Linnaean Society of London (1). This date was no coincidence of course, it was the birth date almost two hundred years earlier in 1627 of John Ray “the father of Zoology," born in a smithy the son of a Blacksmith Ray was widely published on Natural History and was ultimately elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1667.  

The Zoological Club of the Linnaean Society was eventually founded in April 1826, its purpose being to create a collection of animals from around the world for study together with an associated library and museum to aid scientific understanding. By 1847 London “Zoo” had the most extensive collection of animals in the world (2) and by 1928 the first animals were being introduced to the new 600 acre Whipsnade Park purchased to allow studies to be made in a more natural environment some 70 miles from London. The science of Zoology had a home, a purpose and in 1960-61 the Institute of Zoology (IoZ) was formed to research worldwide issues affecting the conservation of species and their habitats.

Quite simply, we are using resources faster than the planet can provide them and this cannot continue without profound and everlasting damage to biodiversity, human health and our very existence "

So, when the almost 200 year old Zoological Society of London (ZSL) announced in 2014 that more than half of all earths wildlife has been destroyed in the last 40 years by mankind one would image the world would sit up, listen and try to understand the terrifying consequences of this trend. The fact is the world has not and there lies the very essence of the problem; namely, mans ability to compartmentalise then ignore subjects we don't want to think about and delude ourselves into believing they do not exist while continuing to pursue those which provide short-term pleasure and security, no matter what the long-term consequences are. According to the ZSL we are cutting trees down faster than they can be replaced, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, extracting freshwater faster than rainfall can replenish our rivers and aquifers and emitting more carbon than our forests and oceans can absorb. Quite simply, we are using resources faster than the planet can provide them and this cannot continue without profound and everlasting damage to biodiversity, human health and our very civilisation. This is not an “over the horizon” problem,  it is here and now and will shape our lives and those of our children.

There is hope and in December 2015 the world comes together in Paris to discuss and hopefully agree a new global climate agreement and sustainable development goals. Since the mid-1990’s the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (UNFCC-COP) meetings have been described as our last opportunity to agree worldwide strategies to address climate change and biodiversity loss. So far they have failed miserably and the relentless destruction of planetary life support systems continues. This worldwide degradation of land, sea and air has now reached unsustainable levels and reports like the Living Planet Index (LPI) highlight all too clearly that the time for action is now and we cannot afford further procrastination. To be clear, this is a matter of life and death not for the planet but for mankind. If we do not reduce our impacts then we are racing towards a tipping point from which we will no longer be in control of what happens next. We are already witnessing destabilisation in planetary systems with ever increasing extreme weather conditions, rising sea-levels, loss of glaciers worldwide and melting ice caps. Tipping points have happened before in earths history during the five great mass extinctions and we are now witnessing the sixth caused this time by mankind. 

When the Rev William Kirby and one billion others on the planet awoke that morning of 29th. November 1822 little did they realise that in just under 200 years the world population would grow to seven billion whose unsustainable consumption of finite resources would threaten their very existence.

 

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Notes for Reader

WHAT IS THE LIVING PLANET INDEX 

In 1997 the Worldwide Fund for Nature  (WWF) working with the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) created the Living Planet Index (LPI) as an indicator of the state of global biological diversity, based on vertebrate species trends globally. This index can be used to evaluate and define the impacts of human actions on the planet and help inform scientists and policy-makers. Today the WWF working in collaboration with the Institute of Zoology (IoZ) which is the research division of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). 

The Index is now maintained by the ZSL and comprises more than 10,000 population  trends on 2500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Each species trend is then aggregated to provide an Index for terrestrial, marine and freshwater. These three habitat indices are then aggregated to generate the LPI.

 


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